As always, I’m all about the games moreso than the people who make them. If a game’s fun, it doesn’t matter much to me whose names are in the credits. Every so often, though, you run into a developer whose name is worth remembering – a group that seems to crank out hit after hit. Klei Entertainment certainly falls into that category. Their previous titles, including Mark of the Ninja, Shank and Don’t Starve, have all been fantastic well-crafted nuggets of goodness, and Klei once again shows that they’ve got it with their new turn-based strategy title Invisible, Inc.
Unlike your typical turn-based affair, Invisible, Inc. is a stealth game through and through. You’ve got several offensive options, but all of these have their drawbacks. Stunning a guard will take them out for a few turns, for instance, but you’ll either have to occupy an agent with keeping them down or risk a sticky situation when they awaken and start searching. Lethal force is also available, but it tends to be expensive, loud and conspicuous, especially given the tendency of guards to wear heartbeat monitors that alert security if they’re killed. As a rule, your agents are frail, so direct confrontation is rarely the answer to your problems. It’s usually best to just let guards be whenever possible.
That means you’re going to have to focus on sneaking about instead. Invisible, Inc. goes out of its way to make this as painless as possible. Guards’ vision radii are marked onscreen to make staying out of sight easy, for instance, and you can spend an action point to predict their movement. Even if one happens to see an agent you’re given one last “mercy” turn to avert your spy’s pending death by getting out of sight or behind cover. Nearly every aspect of the game’s interface and gameplay is based around making the stealth genre – often an agonizing trial-and-error affair – more palatable to gamers who might not be armchair 007s. Mark of the Ninja, Klei’s last stealth-focused game, did the same thing to much success and it works just as well here. On lower difficulty levels, in fact, you’re even given a limited number of rewinds, which allow you to take back the last couple turns and avoid whatever mistakes you just made.
Along with your agents, you’ve got access to Incognita, an AI program that offers a few extra capabilities when you need them most. By tapping into a building’s power grid, you’re able to fuel a variety of special hacks that offer some unique boosts. A personal favorite was Wings, which simply offers a couple bonus AP to all of your agents for a fairly low power cost – it might not sound like much, but that extra few squares of movement was a lifesaver more times than I’d care to admit. Incognita also allows you to pierce security so you can access upgrade shops and stores of cash, along with taking over or eliminating enemy security measures. It behooves you to stay on top of your power reserves and top them off as necessary.
Invisible Inc. owes a lot to games like indie darling FTL in that it focuses primarily on short, contained campaigns. I found that a typical successful run on one of the earlier difficulty settings would take about three to four hours, maybe a bit less. Levels are relatively small for the genre, with the odd outlier here and there, and can typically be cleared in twenty minutes to half an hour unless things go terribly wrong; expect this to go up with the game’s difficulty, naturally. An endless mode is also available if you’d rather just keep spying forever. You’re usually offered a choice of which missions you’d like to do, allowing you to pick and choose your infiltrations based on what you’d like to get out of them – money, upgrades or even additional mission types for your next choice. Aside from the Endless mode, though, each campaign is time-limited and you can only do so many missions before you’re pushed into a final infiltration.
One quirk that this entails is that these campaigns are in fact self-contained. In other words, you don’t tend to carry over upgrades. These are purchased using the cash you get from looting during a mission and from completing missions successfully. They range from weapons and gear for your agents to direct stat boosts to hacking abilities for Incognita; this last category tends to be the most powerful, assuming you’ve got access to plenty of power, as hacks tend to be location-agnostic. This means you can get a quick speed boost or take over some security without necessarily needing an agent there. Either way, all that work you put into pumping up your spies is getting wiped out one way or the other, so there’s no reason to hoard cash – it’s not helping you sitting in your bank account, after all.
Agents can be unlocked over the course of gameplay, however, and there’s some degree of unlockable variation available in your starting loadouts. Since your agents possess a wide variety of skills, this can significantly affect your strategy and how you’ll approach various situations. The starting pair, consisting of all-rounder Decker and hacking expert Internationale, is a good one-size-fits-all solution, but you’re bound to find others that suit you. The door-cracking Banks, for instance, might be a good choice if you’re sick to death of having to futz around with guards to find keys.
All of this is tied together with a fantastic cel-shaded aesthetic. Combat, such as it is, looks appropriately understated, and your agents take cover and dash throughout buildings with the grace you’d expect. Hacking with Incognita, meanwhile, allows for a quick cyberspace glance at the layout of the building you’re mucking around with. Voice acting is also top notch from all corners, so there’s very little to complain about with regards to presentation.
With Invisible, Inc., Klei once again shows that stealth games don’t have to be as slow and painful as they’re often made out to be. This is a game about rewarding smart play over punishing mistakes, particularly early on; later, once you’ve got a grasp on what you’re doing, it’s just as ready to play rough. If you can get past the ephemeral roguelike nature of each campaign, you’re bound to have a good time sticking it to the corporations.